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Posted at 6:00 PM ET, 01/ 8/2011

Fairfax County residents speak on behalf of social services, other state programs

By Fredrick Kunkle

More than 100 people, including a man dressed as President George Washington, used their Saturday morning to address Fairfax County's General Assembly delegation on behalf of state programs and legislative initiatives that are important to them.

With the General Assembly set to convene Wednesday, about 50 people took turns at the podium urging continued support for a host of programs. Like a similar regional meeting Thursday of the Senate and House money committees, people called for insurance coverage for autistic children, more funding for the so-called waivers that allow people to receive disability services in their homes instead of in public institutions, and support for other programs that help people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Several speakers spoke on behalf of the Northern Virginia Training Center , one of five around the commonwealth that provide intensive care for profoundly disabled people.

Jane B. Anthony, co-president of NVTC Parents & Associates, talked about the conflict in the disability community over the best approach to helping people with disabilities and urged lawmakers to resist calls to close or reduce funding for the center in order to redirect the money into community-based programs. Instead, she urged lawmakers to consider broadening the center's mission rather than shuttering it.

"Once you sell the family jewels, they're gone," she said afterwards.

Philip Bailey, an Ashburn resident who has HIV, asked lawmakers to find funding for a program that helps people with pay for the drugs that keep people like him alive. Bailey said 116 people are on a waiting list for the drug assistance program in Virginia. At the same time, the list of prescriptions that are eligible for subsidies grows smaller. Bailey, for example, has contracted diabetes because of his health condition and treatment but cannot receive assistance paying for diabetes medications.

Howard Katz, 59, of Ashburn, choked up with emotion discussing his son's death in an alcohol-related accident while asking lawmakers to pass laws that widen the use of ignition interlock devices that prevent people from driving while intoxicated.

Michael J. McLaughlin, a representive of the American Council for Immigration Reform, urged the delegation to take a harder line on illegal immigrants. McLaughlin said it was "unconscionable" that so many legitimate residents of Virginia were in need when the state was spending a net $1.5 billion for education, medical care and law enforcement, or about $625 for the average Virginia household, for illegal aliens.

One of the more unusual appeals came from James R. Manship, Sr., 57, of Mount Vernon, who came dressed up like the nation's first president. His three minutes at the microphone were spent denouncing a Loudoun County judge who he said had compared the Founding Father to Adolph Hitler while presiding over a trial 16 years ago. He also urged a pardon for the defendant in the case. Another man who came to the hearing was passing out DVDs seeking to raise awareness about what he said was a clandestine government program spraying chemicals in the sky.

Even in good years, the list of needs in the commonwealth is always longer than the ability to fund programs to meet them, lawmakers said. But the after-effects of the worst generation has made the imbalance worse--and the choices between balancing the budget and providing social services trickier than ever.

"We've got so many competing interests in the state," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, the leader of the state's Senate's Democratic majority who chaired the meeting in the Fairfax County Government Center.

"This is my 18th year, and nothing ever changes," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax.), referring to the difficulty in sorting out competing needs and interests. "But it keeps you grounded."

By Fredrick Kunkle  | January 8, 2011; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Fredrick Kunkle  
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